Sunday, March 6, 2016

Clarifying the 5th Commandment

I want to be the first to admit when I am wrong--especially when it involves a large number of people potentially influenced by my mistake. Today was one of those occasions, as I preached through Israel coming to Mount Sinai and the Holy God giving them what we know as the 10 Commandments. I was uncomfortable with what I said about the 5th commandment even as I was saying it, which was confirmed when a discerning listener explained their concerns with what I said as well. With their permission, I have adapted their thoughts below as I attempt to clarify what that commandment means.

The way I said it this morning is that this command was intended for families who were underneath this covenant of God--meaning, they would be parents worthy of honor because they were seeking to follow the rest of the commands as well. But in that statement I implied that if parents are wicked then they are not due any honor whatsoever. In other words, we can kind of pick and choose what commands we are to follow based on who will receive the act or how it will be received. Clearly that is not what the Bible teaches.

If we go forward to Ephesians 6:1-3, we see Paul reiterate this command and its resulting promise: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.'" Here Paul summarizes Exodus 20:12, which is where we find the 5th commandment in question here. The key is not whether the parents are worthy of honor or not; we find the key in the resulting promise: "that it may go well with you." If one would logically take my teaching this morning in conjunction with these texts, essentially I was saying that if you do not have to obey this command because your parents are wicked then you are also not eligible for this promise of it "going well for you." I don't want that for anyone.

My concern this morning was to protect those who have been severely hurt by parents who were/are wicked, and I did not handle it correctly. I never want to give people an excuse not to obey certain commands of God simply because that other person is not "worthy" in some way. Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it give opportunities for the Holy Spirit to do His work on them and the offending party? Yes (see Romans 12:14-21 about "burning coals"). I grieve over the long-term pain that children go through because of sinful parents, but I also want it to "go well" for those children and this commandment gives us part of the conditions.

But the question remains, then: how do children "honor" wicked and sinful parents? Again, that is extremely difficult, and my prayer is that no parent forces their children into that corner. But here are some baby steps that hopefully open the door to God's blessing if you are a child with a wicked parent: praying for the parents; working toward healing from the hurts caused by the parents and succeeding in spite of the parents; breaking a familial cycle of sin and bondage; changing the trajectory of the family name; maintaining some type of communication with safe and healthy boundaries; offering forgiveness, etc. Again, it is unfortunate that as a result of sin in our world we must even have this discussion. But we cannot simply skate over these issues and follow God on our own terms rather than His terms.

I am grateful for people who are like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and who are listening with an eye toward God's Word and making sure that what I am teaching lines up with it. I hope we all do that every day. I am one in process too, so I pray that God grows us more into His image every day, even using our mistakes to lead us further down that path. I love you, church, more than you know.